‘Night Sky’ a flawed sci-fi series worth seeing for the chemistry of two great actors
J.K. Simmons and Sissy Spacek star as a small-town Illinois couple with a mysterious portal in the tool shed.
The most amazing phenomena in the supernatural sci-fi streaming series “Night Sky” is the chemistry between Sissy Spacek and J.K. Simmons as a retired married couple who are so comfortable together it’s as if they’re extensions of each other. When Spacek’s Irene urges Simmons’ Franklin to get out of the house and go to the local pub and he protests that he falls asleep after one beer these days, when Frank expresses concern over Irene’s lack of appetite and decreased mobility and she tells him to stop fussing over her—we nod in recognition and empathy. It’s just pure bliss to watch two of our finest actors as they create a fully formed, three-dimensional, utterly believable long-term marriage dynamic.
At times it takes all of Spacek’s and Simmons’ superpowers to keep us invested in the more fantastic aspects of this Prime Video drama from Holden Miller and Daniel C. Connolly, which has some resemblance to another recent Amazon series, “Outer Range,” in that both stories are set on rural properties containing a mysterious, seemingly otherworldly portal. Over the course of eight episodes, Season One of “Night Sky” has a tendency to meander and to get bogged down in the occasionally murky details while serving up one cliffhanger after another—but we remain involved mainly because of the opportunity to enjoy Spacek and Simmons at the top of their respective games.
Time for the deep dive. Franklin is a retired woodworker and Irene is a former schoolteacher, and they’re living out their days in their comfortable country home in the fictional small town of Farnsworth, Illinois. (“Night Sky” was filmed in Woodstock, Frankfort, Wauconda and Island Lake as well as the Cinespace Film Studios in Chicago. The production values are first-rate; this a great showcase for small-town Illinois.) Franklin is one of those grouchy but goodhearted old guys who was most likely a grouchy but goodhearted young guy (and we see the nascent moments of their union in flashbacks), whereas Irene is kind and patient and has reached a place of inner peace, even as she’s finding it difficult to get around without a wheelchair and there are pressing concerns about her health.
Amazon Studios presents an eight-episode series available Friday on Prime Video.
On many a night after dinner, Irene tells her husband she’d like to see the stars. They make their way out to the tool shed, down the stairs and through an underground tunnel, and pull back a heavy door—revealing a room with two chairs, a table and a giant glass window offering dazzling, awe-inspiring views of … well, it appears to be another planet. Not sure if that increases the real estate value or not, but it’s been Irene’s and Franklin’s secret for years and they’d like to keep it that way.
That proves impossible after a mysterious stranger named Jude (Chai Hansen) seems to materialize out of nowhere and winds up on the floor of the underground chamber, looking the worse for wear. Irene’s maternal instincts kick in and she nurses Jude back to health, while Franklin doesn’t trust this stranger and wants him gone ASAP. (The psychological underpinnings are heavy, given Irene and Franklin lost their beloved son Michael when he was about Jude’s age.)
We meet a plethora of supporting players, including Denise (Kiah McKirnan), the college-age and devoted granddaughter of Irene and Franklin; Byron (Adam Bartley), the comic-relief nosy next-door neighbor who annoys the daylights out of Franklin, and Hannah (Sonya Walger), who runs a B&B and seems kinda strange and it takes a while before her true motives are revealed.
Meanwhile, an Argentinian llama farmer named Stella (Julieta Zylberberg) and her teenage daughter Toni (Roćio Hernández) are connected to the story in a way that will eventually land them in the same room with Irene and Franklin—and a mysterious and menacing gunman (Piotr Adamczyk), who is either the protector of some great secret society connected to that mysterious underground chamber, or a hired killer. Or both. Or neither. It’s complicated.
The common complaint about many a limited series these days is that it might have worked better with fewer episodes, or perhaps as a feature-length film. It’s a common complaint because it’s a VALID complaint, and “Night Sky” is an Amazon Prime Example. Season One ends with more questions than answers, resulting in mixed feelings of frustration and anticipation. They could have wrapped this story up in half the time, but we’ll keep coming back as long as Irene and Franklin are involved.